dilemmas

This week: his irrational fear is driving us apart Liz's boyfriend doesn't like travelling on the Tube, and will only go by bus or taxi. She finds this irritating, as they share costs and she can't afford taxis. They're starting to fall out

What is it about men and the Tube? I have five close male friends who are Tube-phobic, and it's slowly dawning on me that far from being the braver sex, men suffer from weaknesses and phobias just as much as women, if not more so. But their biggest weakness is that they are far more frightened of admitting their phobias than women. A woman will happily discuss every heartbeat of her panic attacks in supermarkets; a man just won't go, and sticks to shopping round the corner. A woman will relish describing the number of beads of sweat on her brow and the hairs going up on the back of her neck as she walks back home on a lonely, darkened street. A man keeps his mouth shut; anyway, he will have taken a cab. The more men I meet the more I realise they are beset with unspoken fears - about eating food that isn't totally fresh, about catching colds, getting enough sleep, getting wet in the rain, skin cancer, sun cream and cholesterol.

I think Liz should be a bit more compassionate to her boyfriend and realise how very hard it is for men to open up about their weaknesses. It is shaming for them to admit their anxieties to men; and they imagine, wrongly, that women would despise them if they revealed their terrors. Thus Liz's boyfriend can only tell her he doesn't like the Tube, he can't go into any detail of why; and his refusing to go, apparently, simply on a matter of aesthetic taste understandably enrages Liz. Were he to say that he felt claustrophobic and terrified in the Tube, that he is frightened of being beaten up by gangs of bad boys, that to go with her would not make him feel safer but, rather, more frightened because if they were both attacked he'd be expected to protect her, she would surely not turn round and shout: "Wimp!" but, rather, feel more understanding. I sometimes wonder, too, whether men don't feel braver on their own than with women, because the expectation of protection that they feel anxious about being able to provide adds further anxiety.

Recently I was stopped by a policeman after being involved in a hooting match with a taxi driver. Both of us were rather stupidly mouthing swear words at each other, and playing slightly dangerous road games. The policeman's verdict? That the taxi driver had behaved appallingly because I was a "woman driver on her own". This line has never been pulled on me before, and I felt ashamed of claiming it with an internal flinging up of arms and a shriek of: "Yess!" To be honest I've never thought of myself as a "woman driver on her own", but now I've got the label I feel it's a little unfair. I mean, what about a non-violent male driver on his own? Wouldn't he be just as frightened if he were terrorised by an aggressive male - or female - taxi driver?

I think it's time for people like Liz to stop feeling that the men in their lives have to be bold and brave. The fact that Liz personally probably sees the Tube as packed with harmless wage-slaves and tourists, doesn't mean that her friend doesn't see it as a dangerous place full of baddies and hooligans - and she should remember that men are more likely to be the objects of attack than women. She should pay her share of the taxi fare while thanking God under her breath that she has found a sensitive, humane male, rather than a bullish, brutish one, to get involved with.

What readers say

This love-affair is going nowhere

Your man doesn't have the confidence to open up to you about his horror of travelling by Tube? You don't have the sensitivity to see that his aversion is something more than mere cussedness?

I wouldn't waste your time worrying about finding ploys to get him to submit to your demands if I were you, Liz.

A love-affair that lacks trust on one side and sympathy on the other isn't going anywhere, whether by London Underground, or any other means.

Sandra Lister, Shrewsbury

What's wrong with taking a bus?

I really don't want to appear flippant, but perhaps Liz should take a more realistic view of travel in London if she loves her partner so much. Buses do come, and don't always get "held up in jams".

Millions of Londoners, blessed with a decent BR service, manage very well without the Underground in any case, so Liz may like to consider freeing herself of what I imagine is her belief that life is not possible away from that little map in the back of her diary; her partner might be profoundly relieved, whatever his or her phobia is.

As for taxis - use sparingly, but if you don't run a car you should be able to afford them once in a while.

Geoffrey Thompson, London SE4

I know how he feels

If cab fares, a wait for a night bus in heavy rain, and Liz's mounting irritation aren't enough to get her partner down the Tube, his problem must be pretty bad.

It's not that long since I felt the same, about the Underground and a host of other things - I'd go miles round to avoid turning right at traffic lights, for instance. Where such obstinate aversions come from can't always be discovered, but therapy, of one of several kinds, can certainly help, and Liz's partner needs some. His problem - and how I sympathise! - is that to admit to being phobic about something everyone else seems to take in their stride will appear to him to involve a catastrophic loss of self- respect. He feels, I guess, that it would make him a wimp, a loony, a laughing-stock. But it wouldn't.

Being phobic is an illness like any other. Believe me, admitting to it is at least half-way to beating it (or anyway making it manageable). I had my phobias for several decades. Now I can hardly remember what most of them were.

Help him to come clean, Liz - and good luck to you both.

Alison Mace, West Yorkshire

His behaviour could be a form of abuse

I had a partner whom I loved who refused to use public transport.

When he lost his licence, I had to drive him around as otherwise he would spend a fortune on taxis and make me feel guilty.

I finally realised that this was one of many clever ways of abusing me - he behaved like this on purpose to exercise control over me.

If Liz's partner behaves unreasonably in other respects, I think she should seriously consider whether this man really loves her, and whether there is any future in the relationship.

Kate Waller, Wolverhampton

Perhaps he needs more sympathy

Liz doesn't say whether or not her man can afford the taxis. Certainly it shouldn't be her money disappearing on them if it's his decision, but what sort of relationship is this if, after a year of apparent togetherness, she still doesn't know why he won't use them?

If Liz hopes to continue this relationship, and for it to be successful, she had better get her act together and set about getting some understanding of her man; there may well be other no-go areas in his life. It may be that his greatest need is for a sympathetic partner who will understand and tolerate this and other foibles; on the other hand, he may be a totally egocentric fellow with a lot of annoying, eccentric and expensive quirks, whom she would do well to ditch at the earliest possible opportunity.

Elizabeth Pullan, Chichester

Next week's problem: should we buy a house in France?

Dear Virginia,

We're going to France on holiday and my husband is determined that this is the year we buy a house there.

He wants to spend the time looking for somewhere, and then has fantasies of doing it up and going over for holidays and weekends.

I find our own house enough of a handful, yet the idea of getting to know an area really well and becoming one of the natives is appealing.

Do other readers have cottages abroad - and can they offer any views to help us make up our minds about buying?

Yours sincerely, Lucy

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293-2182) by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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